Look around and pay attention for just a moment. There is no scientific proof for what I’m about to say, but I’m guessing in a few years there will be.
Recently I took my son to have his wisdom teeth extracted. It would be the last time I had to sign consent forms for him, as he would turn 18 a short three weeks later. He would graduate from high school in the interim.
He’s the youngest, so my time as the parent of minor children was nearing its end. While I sat in the waiting room and hoped all was going well within the inner-sanctum of the oral surgeon’s office, what I witnessed made me thankful that I parented my young children before the age of “smartphones.”
A mother and her daughter, I’m guessing around four years old, were the only people in the room with me. The little girl, let’s call her Molly, was immediately drawn to the children’s books spread across the coffee table.
From the moment they sat down, Mom was busy on her cellphone.
“Can I get a book?” Molly asked.
“Sure you can,” the mom replied, never glancing up.
Molly selected a book, settled into her chair and began to turn through the pages. Too young to know the actual words, she made up a story to coincide with the pictures. She told the story softly, but audibly.
“Molly!” the mother admonished, “Read to yourself.”
“I am,” the child replied.
“If you were reading to yourself I would not be able to hear you,” said the mother, who was otherwise completely engaged in her phone.
Molly seemed to try to heed her mother’s warnings, but still reverted to telling her story aloud. The warnings continued and Molly asked if she could get a different book. She did, but soon returned it to the pile.
“All done already?” the very distracted mother asked.
“I don’t know the words,” Molly said with resignation as she returned to her seat without another book. She sat there quietly until I was called into the recovery room to sit with my son.
It took every ounce of willpower that I had not to ask the mother’s permission to read a book to her daughter. I knew there was a good chance that my offer would not be well received.
The mother, of course, could have taken my request as an insult to her own lack of parenting or, who knows, I could be a child molester. So I fumed in silence.
Perhaps it weighed on me because I was in the midst of the major milestones that signal the end of my own parenting journey with all of the joy, sadness, pride and regret that comes with them.
I think I will worry about Molly forever now.
There are many studies that have been done or are underway about the effects of too much screen time on children. Most revolve around the amount of time our children spend on their phones or computers.
But look around for just a moment, because perhaps there is another phenomenon occurring that could be equally damaging — the amount of screen time that parents are engaging in.
Earlier this year, Boston Medical Center released the results of a small observational study it did of parents with young children in fast food restaurants. It was not so much a “scientific” study as an anthropological observation.
They watched 55 different groups of parents and young children eating in fast food restaurants and found the majority of parents pulled out their phones or mobile devices right away. They reported the children of those parents acted up more.
Some psychologists argue that kids may act up more to try to divert a parent’s attention away from the phone and that over time this generation of children will grow up believing they are not interesting.
“They may feel they are not as compelling as anyone or any ping, that may interrupt our time with them,” said psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair, who wrote a book called “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age.”
There are psychologists questioning whether emotional connections and language development could be affected if parents continue to disconnect from their children while connecting to social media.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, many emergency room doctors are worried, seeing a growing use of mobile devices by parents as a plausible explanation for the surprising reversal of a long slide in injury rates of young children.
It’s all just anecdotal evidence right now. This generation of young children will have to grow up a bit for us to really determine whether moms and dads distracted by their “smartphones” have really impacted their physical and social health.
There may be no scientific evidence, but sitting in that waiting room a few weeks ago gave me a gut feeling that I’m finding difficult to ignore.
Take just a moment yourself and look around. What do you think?